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Politics
Bush administration' new budget is 'tightest' so far


Bottom Line:
BIA - $2.187 billion, a cut of $109 million
OST - $3.04 billion, an increase of $76 million
IHS - $3.048 billion, an increase of $64 million

To view the budget, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2006.

After seeing four years of reduced or stagnant funding for critical programs, Indian Country can expect an even more severe budget from the Bush administration today.

The $2.5 trillion package being unveiled is the "tightest" since 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday. Non-defense and homeland security programs "are going to get hit," he confirmed.

"We are being tight," Cheney said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. "This is the tightest budget that has been submitted since we got here."

According to Cheney, about 150 programs will be eliminated or reduced in the fiscal year 2006 proposal. He said the White House tried to determine whether the programs are working and whether taxpayer dollars are being used wisely.

"Are there better ways to provide these services?" he said. "Are there consolidations in savings that are possible?"

For Indian Country that means a number of major initiatives will take a hit. It's a dangerous trend that has been occurring since the start of the Bush administration, said Gary Gordon, executive director of the National Indian Housing Council.

"The funding for Indian housing," Gordon said last week, "has been stagnant for the last five years. In essence what is happening is that we've actually lost ground in terms of our ability to buy housing because inflation has eaten away at the buying value of those dollars."

Gordon mentioned a plan to cut the $4.7 billion Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 33 percent and move it to the Commerce Department. The $24 million Rural Housing and Economic Development is also on the chopping block. Both programs have provided millions of dollars for tribes and Indian organizations.

And according to the Associated Press, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will take a hit for the second year in a row. President Bush is seeking a $100 million cut to the agency that will largely come from construction of new schools, which he said is a priority of his administration.

The past four years "seem to indicate a trend where Native American programs have been the last funded and, as we come into very difficult budget pressures in discretionary spending, are last funded and then first cut," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-North Dakota) after the State of the Indian Nations address last week.

Last year, Bush sought a $52 million cut to the BIA but members of Congress stepped in and restored funds. Similarly, the administration proposed changes at the Indian Health Service that were overridden once the budget was passed.

That pattern is likely to repeat in the coming months as lawmakers battle the White House over favored and popular programs. In light of the $427 billion federal deficit, Bush's costly plan to overhaul the Social Security system and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the debate will be fierce, some predict.

"Republicans are in charge of the White House, the Senate, and the House, so victories on this front are difficult to accomplish," said Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) last month.

On February 16, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee will be holding a hearingon Bush's 2006 request. A witness list has not been made public yet. The February 15 hearing has been canceled.

Further hearings will be held before the House and Senate appropriations committees as government officials are called to explain their budget proposals. Indian advocates like Johnson and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) have used their positions on these committees to override cuts the Bush administration has proposed.

Relevant Documents:
FY 2006 Tribal Budget Request (National Congress of American Indans)

Relevant Links:
White House Office of Management and Budget - http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb